Traditional Archery – It’s Just Fun

A recent evening spent watching American hunting shows on TV reminded me just how vastly different the opposing ends of the hunting philosophy spectrum really are. It’s sad that one end of this spectrum has been turned into a money making enterprise by so many producers of gadgetry and gimmicky products. I’m not sorry to say that my philosophy towards hunting will never win me any friends there; and I have no desire to do so anyway.

The stark difference between a top of the line compound or crossbow as compared to a traditional recurve or longbow is the perfect example of either end of this spectrum. I don’t have anything against compounds or crossbows as long as they are recognised for what they are: killing machines.

I just like recurves and longbows (and shooting them instinctively), and the general hunting ethic that the use of these weapons seems to cater for. These bows make real hunters. Their use trains patience, dedication and modesty. They give an appreciation of simplicity, and remind us that shooting is supposed to be fun.

Simple curves, wood and real feathers. And not a touch of camo in sight!
Simple curves, wood and real feathers. And not a touch of camo in sight!

I’ve included a short glossary at the end of this article to help explain some of the terms I use. Anything highlighted in bold is further explained there.


I’m not referring to feet per second here – we know that wheels and carbon move quicker – I’m talking about speed of use. Shooting traditional bows instinctively is without a doubt a faster method of shooting a bow than anything else out there. In essence you put an arrow on the string, look at what you want to hit, and shoot it. No sights to look at or through, no distances to estimate or measure, no additional release aids etc. to consider, no let-offs to slow your draw.

I’m serious. I’ve been out with people on several occasions where shots have presented themselves, fired and hit my target before my companions even realised there was a target there. If you can aim, draw and fire before someone standing directly behind you realises that you are lifting your bow – well, how much faster do you want?


Shooting recurves and longbows instinctively is fun. You can shoot them standing up, sitting down, bent double or twisted sideways. The fact that there are no mechanical aiming devices (and particularly if you are shooting off the shelf) means that you can shoot at pretty much any angle. There are of course some things that should remain constant; your grip on the bow and your anchor point especially; but practice is much more fun when you aren’t restricted to set ranges and use of sights, right?

Just take the shot as it comes - your brain will do the rest.
Just take the shot as it comes – your brain will do the rest

This ties in well with the best form of practice when shooting instinctively (after mastering the basics): stump shooting. This is the generic term for just wandering around in the bush, shooting at whatever catches your eye. A fluttering leaf; a spot on a hump of dirt; my old favourite was a dry cow pat until I’d shot every one to bits on our 25 acre block. Of course, that dirt clod you aim at sometimes magically turns into a rock when struck by an arrow, but watching a wooden shaft splinter (while slightly sickening) is pretty awesome too. Or, like my dad, you can make a game out of shooting your sons arrows after he’s fired them (it’s amazing how fun this idea seems until one of your own arrows is destroyed).

It's always a good idea to carry some hunting arrows when stump shooting - you never know when practice might turn real!
It’s always a good idea to carry some hunting arrows when stump shooting – you never know when practice might turn real!

It’s also OK to miss when shooting instinctively. We all do it, no matter how good we are. Some of the best shots I’ve ever taken have been misses. If that doesn’t make sense to you then you might need to re-evaluate what you’re doing.

That’s what makes traditional archery and instinctive shooting so fun – you can enjoy missing.

Another classic miss for the books.
Another classic miss for the books


Anyone that thinks traditional bows aren’t deadly weapons is kidding themselves. The key here is a) shot placement and b) a sharp broadhead. If you put a shaving sharp broadhead into the vitals of an animal you will kill it just as dead as if it had been shot with anything else. We’ve killed wild boar that never even moved from where they were hit – just keeled over. I’ve dropped a running goat on the spot, just as efficiently as any rifle.

Forget the Hollywood dramatization of archery, depicting victims bristling with arrows having only penetrated a few inches: hunting weight bows will punch an arrow clean through most game animals. These things are not toys.

Never muck around - a moments carelessness is all it takes
Never muck around – a moments carelessness is all it takes

If you’re interested in having a go at traditional archery, heading to a local club is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and have a crack at shooting. I went along to a few shoots with the Hunter Valley Traditional Archers ( when I was living in Newcastle and had a great time.


Instinctive Shooting – shooting a bow without the use of any sights or aiming (including sighting down the arrow). Hand-eye coordination is used to shoot, whereby; with practice; the brain works to point the hand (or more correctly the arrow) at a point focussed on by the eye. When this process is repeated so that it comes without conscious thought, the archer is shooting instinctively.

Shooting Off the Shelf – Most commonly associated with shooting recurves and longbows. The arrow is rested on the bottom of the sight window of the bow (or on the top of the bow hand with traditional longbows); thereby putting the arrow as close as possible to the ‘pointing’ hand used in instinctive shooting and creating an ‘in-line’ form from the eye through the hand and arrow and to the target. Even when the bow is tilted to the side, the arrow remains on this line.

Anchor Point – A constant point that the string hand reaches at full draw of the bow. For many, this is the index finger of the string hand touching the corner of the mouth; but various anchors exist. A consistent anchor creates a consistent draw, vastly contributing to accuracy under varying other conditions.

Stump Shooting – A form of practice in which the archer rambles and creates targets out of things that catch the eye. Valuable due to the similarities to actual hunting conditions; targets are frequently at unknown (particularly important to instinctive ‘memory’) ranges, thereby challenging the brain to instinctively adjust to account for varying trajectories. This skill is highly valuable as in enables the archer to hit targets at any (within reason) range without having to think about it.


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